As the decennial U.S. Census approaches in 2020, we face a massive undertaking to obtain an accurate and complete count throughout our state. We cannot overstate how vitally important it is that state leaders dedicate funding toward this effort. Investing one-time dollars for public outreach and education is crucial to assure securing a decade-worth of accurate data, sorely needed for our state to thrive economically.

Most Utahns recognize the importance of an accurate census count for determining the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House of Representatives. Most people understand the census shapes how our legislative district boundaries are formed, and how federal funds will be distributed for dozens of programs, including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, school lunches, and Section 8 housing assistance.

However, you may be surprised how many other programs and business practices depend on good census data. Here are a few:

  • State and local governments use census data for distributing funds from sales taxes for local, state, and federal transportation funding, such as highway planning and construction.
  • Public safety planners need census information for emergency preparedness.
  • Businesses utilize census data to decide where to build factories, offices, restaurants and stores and how to effectively market their goods and services, helping to create jobs.
  • Manufacturers use census data to determine needs and quantities for production.
  • Developers need the census to build new homes and new businesses.
  • Health care providers use census data to determine the need for additional hospital services, physicians, urgent care facilities or other types of medical services.
  • Banks rely on census data to insure compliance with Federal mortgage guidelines regarding race and to comply with other regulatory requirements, particularly the Community Reinvestment Act, Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and the Federal Insurance Improvement Act.
  • Researchers and advocates use census data to define and describe the needs of populations, and to profile demographics of blocks, neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and other geographic areas.
  • Family history libraries and databases are critically dependent on accurate, complete census data for research purposes.
  • Residents use the census to support community initiatives involving quality-of-life and consumer advocacy.

As you can see, census data is critical to economic development and to the safety and health of all Utah residents. An inaccurate census means money lost to our state and services denied, and could hinder Utah’s economic growth for the next decade. In 2016, Utah received over $5.6 billion in federal funding allocated by using census data. That is about $1,870 per Utahn. With Utah’s high growth rate throughout the state, an accurate 2020 census count is vital. A smart investment guarantees a positive return.

Census 2020 faces multiple challenges. The U.S. Government Accountability Office says the effort is at “high risk” for substantially undercounting certain groups, including low-income, underserved and minority households. And, for the first time, the census will be administered online. Many households in both rural and urban communities do not have online access, creating even greater challenges for many residents to complete the census.

We know these challenges require local solutions. Federal appropriations for census gathering are not sufficient to reach our hard-to-count communities and account for our exponential growth in Utah. Providing additional state resources and funding for local complete count committees will support local governments and nonprofit organizations – trusted agents who know how to reach residents in their own communities.

In recognition of Census 2020’s critical importance to all facets of our community, and recognizing the many challenges to gathering accurate data, we support legislative funding for thoughtful, collaborative outreach efforts to address barriers and ensure a complete count for Utah.

Submitted by Cameron Diehl, executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns; Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber; Lew Cramer, CEO of Colliers International - Utah; and Bill Crim, president and CEO, United Way Salt Lake.